Gordon Brown warns of need to protect poorest countries during COVID-19 crisis

By agency reporter
May 17, 2020

Gordon Brown has warned of a second or third wave of the COVID-19 crisis which he calls a “global emergency” that cannot truly be ended “unless it is eradicated in every continent”.
 
Stepping up his urgent plea for international cooperation in the face of the crisis, the former prime minister said: “It is in all our interests to prevent a second or third wave starting in the poorest, least protected countries with the most underdeveloped health systems. So a threat to others is a threat to us, and we help ourselves by helping others. Protecting ourselves locally means we need to act globally.”
 
Writing in the foreword of a new report – Tipping Point: How the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to push the world’s poorest to the brink of survival – by international development charity Christian Aid, Mr Brown says: “Seventy-five years after VE Day, it is more critical than ever that in another global crisis we rediscover how we can work together to make this world a safer, more connected and a far fairer place. Today we face a global medical emergency, and we cannot end the coronavirus pandemic unless it is eradicated in every continent.”
 
The report, published to mark Christian Aid Week, focuses on four countries that exemplify some of the challenges facing the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations as a result of the pandemic: Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Gaza, and the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. These are people already battling endemic poverty, protracted humanitarian crises, long-running conflict, severe food insecurity, economic shocks, displacement and underfunded heath systems, the report warns.
 
Mr Brown said: “Christian Aid Week 2020 is focusing on the needs of those who have been hardest hit by the coronavirus in the poorest countries with the least developed health systems, often with no social protection. This report examines the situations and the solutions for vulnerable adults and children in a range of countries where the need for imaginative cross-border solutions could not be more stark.
 
“South Sudan is a story about a conflict-affected context with no functioning health system; the Sierra Leone example highlights the merits of a faith-based response and makes the case for debt cancellation; Bangladesh is about the desperate plight of Rohingya refugees; and the situation in Gaza and the surrounding region calls for cooperation across political boundaries.”
 
In the Tipping Point report, Christian Aid highlights the health, economic and humanitarian ‘tipping points’ in the four country contexts that could see millions of women, children and men "plunged from crisis into catastrophe". It is calling for specific, urgent measures to address these.
 
Mr Brown says: “As governments around the world struggle to find their way through the crisis, and multilateral organisations find it difficult to forge a coordinated global response, Christian Aid is filling a gap: its concern is for the most marginalised people living in extreme poverty and inequality, exacerbated by Covid-19. In providing health care, creating jobs, defending human rights and delivering humanitarian aid, Christian Aid is making a difference.”
 
Christian Aid has issued three key recommendations for domestic, national and global actors: mobilise faith leaders in the response, cancel debt for the poorest countries, and safeguard existing humanitarian work.
 

  1. Mobilise faith leaders
    The charity is urging donor governments in the global North to recognise the unique role of faith leaders and faith-based organisations in the global South, and provide adequate resources to support their active engagement in minimising the spread of COVID-19. Christian Aid argues that “faith actors have a distinctive and powerful role in bringing about behavioural and social change during times of stability and times of crisis, especially at the community level.”
  1. Cancel the poorest countries’ unpayable debts
    Christian Aid is calling on the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to work with others to broker a comprehensive debt cancellation deal for the poorest countries, to help release the resources needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also pushing for a full cancellation of debt repayments, including the principal on those debts falling due in 2020 for the 77 poorest countries, totalling $40.6 billion.
  1. Safeguard existing humanitarian efforts: scale up funds for local responders
    Christian Aid says donors must safeguard current humanitarian work, across the world. This includes ensuring that food and other critical humanitarian interventions that save lives are sustained, guaranteeing access for aid workers, and protecting vulnerable populations and social groups. Only a locally owned response driven by community participation will mitigate the worst effects of COVID-19, says the charity, emphasising that donor agencies such as DFID must resource and support local and national civil society organisations overseas to lead COVID-19 responses effectively.


Patrick Watt, Christian Aid’s Policy and Campaigns Director, said: “COVID-19 has exposed the deep faultlines in societies, and the ways in which our economy is broken. Without concerted action, the pandemic threatens to deepen those inequalities, and set back the fight against poverty by a generation. By taking steps now to minimise the spread of the virus, mitigate the worst effects on people’s livelihoods, and protect existing humanitarian work, governments and civil society can prevent a crisis from escalating into a catastrophe.”

The Tipping Point report details specific challenges in four fragile contexts of particular concern:

  • First, Sierra Leone, which has yet to recover from the Ebola epidemic that killed a fifth of its health workers and decimated an already frail healthcare system. The government’s crippling debt burdens far outweigh its spending on healthcare, leaving it unable to finance a service capable of protecting its citizens. 
  • Secondly, it highlights the plight of more than 850,000 Rohingya refugees living in makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, having been forcibly displaced from an armed onslaught in Myanmar. Conditions in the camps are crowded, sanitation is sub-standard and a third of households do not have soap.
  • Thirdly, South Sudan, the world’s third most vulnerable country to COVID-19 impacts. A humanitarian crisis driven by years of protracted conflict has left 1.8 million civilians internally displaced, 6 million facing hunger, and three quarters of the population with no access to healthcare. The country has just four ventilators between 11 million people. Existing humanitarian work is under threat and aid workers have faced a backlash since the pandemic began.
  • Lastly, the reports warns that in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), and especially in the extremely densely populated Gaza Strip, coronavirus threatens to tip an existing humanitarian crisis zone over the edge. In a Gazan economy already devastated by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, Covid-19 could ruin the livelihoods of thousands already living hand to mouth, says Christian Aid. Across the OPT the pandemic has already exacerbated the economic crisis and exacerbated human rights violations.

* Read the Tipping Point report here

* Christian Aid https://www.christianaid.org.uk/

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